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The schools our children need

Pamela Jo Suckla

While serving on the board of the Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB), including a term as president, I managed to visit every school district in our state. I did this because I believe there is no substitute for getting out and meeting people and visiting schools if you want to know the real issues facing education.

I found that what you learn on the scene is often a bit different from what you might read in the paper or hear in Denver. Being a life-long rancher in one of our more remote areas, I learned that realities and viewpoints about them vary greatly from place to place. Even when the issues are similar, the Western Slope will often see things very differently than the Front Range.

When it comes to education, the issues that matter most to parents, taxpayers, teachers, or anyone else are not new issues. They are very basic, fundamental things that have been with us for a long time. These are some of the issues I hear about most frequently:

Safety and discipline

When Gov. Bill Owens appointed me to serve on the Columbine Commission, I was reminded in the most painful way how fundamental this issue is. As we looked closely at one of the most awful days in Colorado history, we learned anew that education could only succeed in an atmosphere of safety, order, and strong discipline. Without it, teachers cannot teach and students cannot learn.

The good school is run by adults for the benefit of children. Well-behaved children working hard will always produce good results, but those students must be protected from other students and be free of that bullying and harassment that can make learning impossible.

Parent-friendly schools

The foundation of support for any school is the parents and the community. They must see their schools as welcoming places that support the values of the community. Teachers and principals will always be supported in such schools, and that much-needed community financial support will be there as well.

The way to build and maintain these positive relations is through effective communication done on a regular basis, not when problems arise.

Reading

We must be careful in saying that one thing is more important than others are, but in the classroom make no mistake reading is job No. 1.

We know that almost all children are capable of reading on grade level, but the reality is that nationwide about a third of our children are not reading at grade level.

This gap must be closed. This is why our president and our governor have made literacy a centerpiece of their education programs.

The child who is at or above grade level in reading has a big head start in every other academic area. The child who lags behind tends to fall further behind with each passing year. We must and we can do better.

Accountability

Accountability is something everyone believes in, but often controversy arises when we try to define what it means.

To me, accountability is about taking personal responsibility for your actions. No one can be exempt – not students, parents, teachers, administrators or elected officials.

When Colorado adopted high standards for what children need to know and be able to do, we knew we would need good tests to determine if those standards were being met. We also know that those of us responsible for running schools would have to be accountable if our children were not getting what they needed.

In the end, accountability is not just about standards and tests. It is about learning, and we all must accept accountability for that.

After the tragedy of Sept. 11, we frequently heard the motto “United We Stand.” It says something important for our country and for our schools as well.

Pam Suckla of Disappointment Valley in Montrose County represents the 3rd Congressional District, including Garfield County, on the Colorado Board of Education.


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